When touring the world’s number one-ranked Test side, it seems obvious that the return from injury of your attack leader and all-time leading wicket-taker would be a massive boost.
However, England face this situation ahead of Thursday’s Test against India, and it is not even obvious that their star seamer should slot back into the team.
With James Anderson fit again, the tourists have four seamers and three spinners realistically competing for six spots.
And after a dominant performance at Rajkot in the series opener, it looks eminently possible that the 34-year-old will be left out of the side.
At Rajkot, only 86 out of the 214.3 overs England bowled were delivered by the seam trio of Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes (40.0%).
Indeed, with Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari performing with admirable control, it was spin that unsettled the Indian batting line-up.
It seems improbable, therefore, that the England management will want to drop a spinner to accommodate Anderson, especially with all three slow bowlers used in Rajkot appearing to have become more and more confident as this tour has gone on.
And if a seamer were to make way at Visakhapatnam, it would be an incredibly tough decision on the management’s behalf as to which one it was.
Despite taking just two wickets between them at Rajkot, Woakes and Broad bowled with admirable control. The pair restricted Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara‘s scoring, and have both the necessary pace and the required nous to enjoy success on subcontinental wickets.
Stokes, meanwhile, scored a swashbuckling century in the first innings, and his bowling performance in Bangladesh renders him undroppable.
Thus, it is very difficult to see how Anderson fits into the bowling attack. Woakes and Ansari are the two men most likely to miss out, but both deserve to keep their spots based on performances this year, without even considering their vastly superior batting ability when compared with Anderson.
Without context, Anderson’s stats suggest that he is just as good a bowler in Asia as he is in the rest of the world: his overall average (28.28) and average in Asia (28.29) are strikingly similar.
However, when his performances in the UAE against Pakistan – where conditions are noticeably different – are removed, his average rises to 33.45.
Furthermore, the small sample size of this data means that particular performances can weight statistics unfairly.
If we remove Anderson’s 6/79 match figures at Mumbai in March 2006, when Shaun Udal bowled England to victory on the final day, his average in India rises to 36.06.
Whilst this may be a contentious use of statistics, that game was over a decade ago, and Anderson has changed enormously in that period, from a genuinely fast bowler to a medium-fast bowler who is an expert at swinging the ball.
Thus, it is clear that Anderson’s record in India is somewhat underwhelming for a man with 463 Test wickets, and that Broad and Woakes may represent a stronger new-ball combination.
It should also be considered that this series will be a gruelling one for all those involved, and that playing four consecutive Test matches may well prove beyond Anderson.
The shoulder injury which delayed his arrival on England’s tour has plagued him for over a year, and at 34, Anderson needs to look after his body to prolong his Test career as long as is physically possible.
Cook boosted by news of Anderson’s arrival:https://t.co/fvRbbt1yVu pic.twitter.com/wH9UUuBmXz
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) 5 November 2016
Furthermore, he has not played a competitive game since the last Test of the English summer on 14th August.
It is crucial for England that Anderson gets overs in his body and trains hard before he is selected again: the Visakhapatnam Test looks like it may come too soon.
Finally, given the injury history of both Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, it is critical that England should have some fresh fast bowling replacements for later in the series.
Therefore, England must leave out their all-time leading wicket-taker in the Second Test; it will help the balance of the side and ensure that his injury is not aggravated.
Who should Jimmy Anderson replace in the Second Test?
— LastWordOnCricket (@LWOSCricket) 15 November 2016